Signs of Bloat in Dogs

A painful, distended abdomen in a dog may indicate bloat, a potentially deadly veterinary emergency.


Bloat, officially known as gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), is an extremely dangerous condition where the dog’s stomach fills with gas and can twist upon itself. Bloat without a twisted stomach can be treated medically, but if the stomach twists the dog will need emergency surgery. If your dog shows a distended abdomen or other signs of bloat, get treatment immediately.

Bloat is most likely to occur a few hours after eating a large meal, but it can occur at any time. If you notice any signs of bloat in dogs, act immediately and call your veterinarian or a veterinary emergency hospital.

Symptoms of bloat in dogs include:

  • Distended abdomen
  • Dry heaving and attempting to vomit without much coming up
  • Panting and difficulty breathing
  • Swollen abdomen sounds hollow when tapped on
  • Pacing, unable to get comfortable
  • Looking at the stomach
  • Drooling
  • Collapse
  • Death

Dogs at Risk for Bloat

You may see signs of bloat in any dog, but bloat most commonly occurs in large dogs with a deep chest, such as Dobermans and Great Danes. Male dogs are more likely to bloat than females, and anxious dogs also seem to have an increased risk.

A genetic element to bloat is possible. If your dog has close relatives who have bloated, he is more likely to bloat during his own lifetime.

Causes of Bloat in Dogs

While it’s unclear exactly what causes bloat in dogs, the suspected causes of bloat are:

  • History of bloat in a particular breed line (hints to a possible genetic predisposition)
  • Dogs who eat too fast (ingest excess air with the meal)
  • Using elevated feeding bowls (promotes ingestion of excess air with the meal)
  • Feeding dry food with heavy fat/oil content
  • Feeding a large meal vs. multiple smaller meals
  • Exercising on a full stomach
  • Drinking excessive amounts of water at one time

Signs of Bloat in Dogs

The first stage of bloat is pain. If the stomach is twisted, things get really bad. As the stomach twists, blood vessels are cut off and circulation is lost to the stomach and possibly the spleen. Eventually these tissues will die.

The stomach also becomes completely sealed at both ends, meaning that the gas has no outlet to escape. In extreme cases the stomach can rupture.

Treating Bloat in Dogs

The vet will likely take at least one X-ray. This will show if the stomach is filled with gas, and whether it has twisted and become a full GDV.

If the stomach has not twisted, your vet may be able to release the gas by passing a tube into your dog’s stomach. This may require sedation.

If your dog’s stomach twisted, he will need emergency surgery. The veterinary team will first take measures to stabilize his condition, then open the abdomen to untwist the stomach and make sure that all the tissues appear healthy. Your dog’s stomach will also be tacked to the abdominal wall to prevent it from twisting again in the future.

Dogs at high risk for bloat sometimes have their stomachs tacked as a preventive measure. This is usually done at the same time as a spay or neuter procedure.

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Kate Basedow, LVT is a long-time dog enthusiast. She grew up training and showing dogs, and is active in a variety of dog sports. She earned her Bachelors Degree in English from Cornell University in 2013, and became a licensed veterinary technician in New York in 2017. She has been writing professionally about dogs for most of her life, and has earned multiple awards from the Dog Writers' Association of America. Kate currently has three dogs at home, as well as a cat, two zebra finches, and six ducks.